When it comes to dieting and getting weight loss results fast, the first thing a lot of us tend to do is cut our calories and crank up the exercise. But for some this doesn't simply mean 30 minutes of exercise and cutting out some sugary snacks- this means sticking to strict low calorie intakes and spending hours doing cardio and HIIT training. And?… well what’s the harm in that? You’re losing weight right?
So you’ve started your low calorie diet, all seems to be going well apart from the constant hunger cravings, and your dropping a shed load of weight. A month goes by and you’re already getting comments on how good you look, not to mention you feel fitter than ever in the gym. A week or two later, you’re finding yourself feeling hungry all the time and your energy levels are starting to slump- but hey that’s nothing that a once a week binge and re-feed doesn’t solve.
Another month passes- weight loss is getting slower for you now and you feel more tired and hungrier than ever. In a desperate hope to rev up the fat burn and overcome your weight loss plateau, you increase your exercise intensity and cut out another 100 plus calories…Finally! A few more pounds drop off and you think you’re back in the game. But these results don’t last and again two weeks later your weight loss has plateaued again and your body now seems like it simply just won’t budge.
You’re trying everything to get motivated and performing more cardio than ever but even with ten times the effort you’re still not seeing any changes. Frustrated, angry and tired are just a few of the emotions you’re feeling- not to mention hungry. You just want to sleep- but even on a good night you’re waking up 4 or 5 times and on days when you feel super motivated, your mind is telling you its pumped and ready to go- your body simple wont perform- you’re exhausted.
As weeks go by you feel stuck in a rut,you’re suddenly anxious and even your so called perfectly clean diet is starting to cause issues- protein shakes are causing you to feel bloated and sick, and carbs… well if you were allowed carbs, you’d also be seeing the bloating effects. Slowly you see the pounds adding on and even in this desperate state you can’t seem to make it through your usual workout.
If any of the above symptoms sound like something you might be thinking then you could be suffering from metabolic stress, compensation, damage or adrenal fatigue. But how has this happened and what’s brought you here?
So we’ve all heard of starvation mode right?
“if you don’t eat, your body will go into starvation mode” – that’s usually what you’re worried friends or parents will tell you. But others tell you it’s simply just a myth. The truth is starvation mode is not a myth- but it will take more than missing one meal to get you here.
We all know losing weight is about burning off more than what you’re consuming and making sure your body is within a calorie deficit. But if we cut our calories too low and increase exercise, the body is put under excess stress, which over weeks and long periods of time means the body will have to compensate and adapt for this stress in order to survive.
Metabolic Compensation & Resistance
When it comes to hunger cravings and weight control, we depend on various hormone and call signalling from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. These glands send out signals and hormones to the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, and gonads, creating a coordinated hormonal system that can co-ordinates our metabolism.
As your metabolism starts to adapt to calorie restriction, it undergoes metabolic compensation- a natural physiological response to starvation. Here’s where you’ll start to feel the hunger cravings and some occasional drops in energy- which are being caused by a decline in action from your thyroid hormone. Metabolic compensation which when worsened turns into metabolic resistance can be identified by symptoms such as:
✓ Your metabolism slowing down
✓ Hunger cravings and occasionally low energy
✓ Weight loss comes to a stop and you’re finding you have to decrease calories and increase exercise levels to maintain your current weight.
✓ You’re more energetic at night and your sleep pattern is disturbed.
When it comes to getting your metabolism back on track it’s not impossible at this stage but you need to get the “eat less, exercise more concept” out of your head and adapt to a “eat less, exercise less” or “eat more exercise more”. Listen to your body and make sure you’re recovering especially if you are suffering from fatigue at this point. Do not eat more and exercise less! – You’ll find out why later.
Metabolic damage is the final stage of starvation mode and the most serious and longer term consequence of long term low calorie diets. If you’re suffering from metabolic damage you’ll find yourself agreeing with a lot of the below:
✓ You’re no longer losing weight
✓ You may be gaining weight even though your diet is “spot on”.
✓ You feel like you’re retaining water
✓ You suffer from digestive discomfort
✓ Your sleep pattern is completely out of wack
✓ You feel depressed and demotivated with no energy and constant fatigue
✓ You’re feeling more anxious or suffering from anxiety
✓ You’re dizzy, feel nauseous and light headed.
Do any ofthese sound familiar? If so you may be suffering from metabolic damage or adrenal fatigue. But what does this mean for you?
At the moment your thyroid gland may be suffering from hypothyroid, hypothyroid and even autoimmune thyroid conditions and your adrenal glands are under a great deal of stress.
What Can You Do?
First off, it’s important to come to terms with the fact that you can’t maintain this type of lifestyle.
Believe it or not your body is reacting in this way for good reason and if weight loss is truly what you want, pushing yourself harder and cutting calories further still won’t make any difference on your weight. Trust me, I’ve suffered from metabolic damage first hand.
Back in the day running 8 miles a day, followed by an hour on the cross trainer and sometimes an insanity session, was easy and exhilarating – with the weight dropping off. After a year or so, when circumstances changed and time wise I couldn’t spend hours in the gym, the weight seemed to pile back on. Even when trying to lose this added weight and get back on track, going to the gym twice a day- performing 2.5 hours of cardio with1.5 hours of weights, whilst consuming a mere 1000 calories, still caused little to no change in weight.
The consequences of metabolic damage are both mental and physical – suffering from adrenal fatigue, insomnia, severe anxiety and facing more water retention and an intolerance to dairy, whey protein or fibre of any type. If you think you might be suffering from metabolic damage you can still work towards getting your life and metabolism back- but you need to act now and the results are not instantaneous- you’ve got your work cut out.
Recovering from Metabolic Damage
When it comes to recovering from metabolic damage you may hear doctors, friends and family advising you to eat more and exercise less. Do NOT do this!! This will cause a massive increase in weight which is not what you want. Unfortunately at this stage you need to focus on the body’s recovery and recovering from the damage you’ve done. This means eating less and exercising LESS focusing on taking some time off and concentrating on a concept called “reverse dieting”.
Since metabolic damage can cause rapid fat gain if you eat “normally”, if you want to maintain your weight you need to reverse diet and increase your calories and decrease exercise levels at a very slow rate- monitoring the reaction of your body along the way.
By increasing calories very slowly
– say 50 calories a week, this means your metabolism can adapt to the new, higher caloric intake while at the same time you’re slowly decreasing energy expenditure and cardio. Eventually over a period of months (- yes months this is not an overnight recovery) reverse dieting this way can make it easier to maintain your weight and start to live a normal life.
Take Home Message
So you still want that quick weight loss? If you’re thinking this won’t happen to me, think again- I once thought I was invincible, the fastest and fittest- often referred to as a “machine”. Three years later and my body could literally take no more with full blown metabolic damage.
I can’t stress enough- especially to women, how damaging these diets can be. Yes for some being slim is natural but for those of us who need to diet to lose weight crash dieting is not the way to go. Personal trainers are often greeted with individuals who claim to eat very little yet have a high body fat- this doesn’t mean they are secretly eating or lazy and unfit, it may simply mean their past dieting methods have actually damaged their metabolism causing it to be slow and now unresponsive to exercise and food intakes that worked previously.
If you’re just starting your weight loss make sure you are eating enough to fuel your body and not depending on exercise and no food to get results. If you see some of yourself in this article then follow the steps towards recovery so you can start to get your metabolism back in gear, live life and look at losing weight or maintaining weight the right and healthy way.